By Christina Berger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
MOSCOW, Russia — A former Russian court official said in an interview on Friday that the judge in charge of last year’s high profile trial of Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky openly admitted the verdict would be dictated to him by others. This was the second official associated with the case to speak out about pressure put on the judge during the trial.
Igor Kravchenko, who was an administrator at the Moscow court until he was let go for allowing Khodorkovsky’s lawyers to bring a jar of crude oil into the courtroom as part of testimony, was interviewed by a Russian independent newspaper. In the interview, published on Friday, Kravchenko claims that Judge Viktor Danilkin admitted that he was not the one really in charge of Khodorkovsky’s fate. Kravchenko said in the interview, “[a]bout the process this is what [Judge Danilkin] said: ‘In principle, I don’t decide this. Whatever they say, that’s what will be.”
Judge Danilkin has said this is not true, and a Moscow courts spokeswoman has reassured Russian news media that Judge Danilkin wrote the verdict himself and urged reporters not to “suck news out of your finger, but analyze the process on the basis of facts and data which were presented in the trial.”
But Kravchenko is not the first Russian court official to make such claims. Natalya Vasilyeva, a former assistant to Judge Danilkin and court spokeswoman, gave an interview in February 2010 claiming that Judge Danilkin was forced to hand out a guilty verdict. Vasilyeva said in a TV interview, “Danilkin began to write the verdict. I suspect that what was in that verdict did not suit his higher ups, and therefore he received another verdict, which he had to read.” Kravchenko has said that what Vasilyeva said is true and only what most people involved the case already knew.
Khodorkovsky was already serving an eight year sentence on similar charges when the trial with Judge Danilkin took place. Many in the international community viewed the original sentence for tax fraud, handed down in 2005, as punishment for challenging then-President Vladimir Putin, and for his intent to sell energy assets to US companies. It was in light of his approaching release that government officials charged Khodorkovsky with embezzlement last year.
Khodorkovsky was held for months last year in pre-trial detention, despite legislation recently passed and aimed at keeping people accused of economic crimes free until trial. Russia’s Supreme Court actually ruled on appeal that the pre-trial detention was illegal, but it has no practical effect since Khodorkovsky is already serving the second sentence handed down by Judge Danilkin.
Khodorkovsky’s lawyer suggested the ruling was a superficial way to demonstrate reforms in Russia are working. “The situation is so crazy and so lacking in practical consequences that it was possible [for the court] to completely painlessly demonstrate that sometimes in Russia, even in this case, there are reasonable rulings,” he said.
As a result of the second trial, Khodorkovsky will be in prison until 2017, Judge Danilkin having sentenced him to six years for multibillion-dollar theft and money-laundering. During the trial Judge Danilkin was often called to Moscow City Court for meetings and demands of senior officials, according to Kravchenko. He also claimed that when senior officials were pleased with the judge, their approval was shown through bonuses for Danilkin and his employees, and when the senior officials weren’t happy with the judge, then his budget shrank.
Fore more information, please see:
MOSCOW TIMES — 2nd Court Official Sees Yukos Pressure — 18 April 2011
AP — Ex-Khodorkovsky court official criticizes judge — 15 April 2011
NY TIMES — Bosses Pressed Russian Judge, Official Says — 15 April 2011